One can’t have one’s cake and eats it too 鱼与熊掌不可兼得

One can’t have one’s cake and eats it too is a popular English idiomatic proverb or figure of speech. It means an individual can’t use a thing and still attempts to own it (such as eating a piece of cake and yet still possessing that piece for future use) It may also indicate having or wanting more than one can handle or deserve, or trying to have two incompatible things. The proverb’s meaning is similar to the phrases, “you can’t have it both ways” and “you can’t have the best of both worlds.

There is a Chinese proverbs which bears similar meaning. It is 鱼与熊掌不可兼得, which literally means “one cannot get fish and bear’s paw at the same time”. Back in the old days, both were considered culinary rarities. I was told the closest Spanish phrase to this is.“no puedes tener simpre lo que quieras”

以上应语谚语表示不能同时做两件互不相容的事而双收其利,即两者不可兼得或不能两全其美,可译为:不能什么都随你;不能两全其美;事难两全;两者不可兼得.

Examples

  • He can’t make up his mind whether to go to college or get a full-time job. You can’t have your cake and eat it. 上大学还是找个全日工作的职业,他还拿不定主意,两者不可兼得啊。
  • You spend all your money on beer and then complain about being poor, but you can’t have your cake and eat it, you know. 你把所有的钱都喝啤酒喝完了,然后又抱怨没钱用,你知道,这不能两全其美啊。
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Venturing into the tiger’s den to catch cubs 不入虎穴,焉得虎子

This is an example of a borrowed metaphor by using an object, a tiger, to convey a message. This proverb applies to situations where one has to go into enemies’ territories to catch the ringleaders. Animal protectionists probably do not like this proverb, however, tigers in ancient China were symbols of tyrants or villains.

Background

不入虎穴,焉得虎子  (bù rù hǔ xué, yān dé hǔ zǐ) literally means “If you don’t enter the tiger’s den, how will you get the tiger’s cub?”

When the general of Eastern Han dynasty, Chao Ban, opened diplomatic relations with the Western Territory, the kingdom Xionglu also sent an envoy to the Western Territory. General Ban decided to make the first move, and led his army to attack the heavily guarded residence of the Xionglu diplomat. Those who were with him thought that attacking the heavily guarded residence was too dangerous, but Ban said, “If you didn’t enter the tiger’s den, how could you get the tiger cub?  

 Meaning

1. No pain, no gain   2. Nothing ventured, nothing gained

Examples

  • In politics  (1.  Colombia’s armies crossed Ecuador’s border to capture the rebel commander, Raul Reyes 2. US sent troops to Iraq to capture Saddam Hussein)